The Conference of Roman Catholic Cathedral Musicians (CRCCM) met in Detroit, Michigan, from January 2-5, 2016 for its 34th annual gathering.  Joseph Balistreri, Director of Episcopal Music for the Archdiocese of Detroit; Stephanie Nofar-Kelly, Director of Parish Music at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Detroit; and Paul Monachino, Director of Music at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral, Toledo (OH) designed and directed the conference gathering with help from the support staff of the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Corporate Travel Service, Peter’s Way Tours, as well as the CRCCM steering committee (Michael Batcho, Director of Music at the Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist, Milwaukee, WI; Anthony DiCello, Director of Music at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Chains, Cincinnati, OH; Donald Fellows, Director of Music at Saint Paul Cathedral, Pittsburgh, PA; Teri Larson, Director of Music and Arts at the Basilica of Saint Mary, Minneapolis, MN; Ezequiel Menendez, Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral of Saint Joseph, Hartford, CT; and Christoph Tietze, Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption, San Francisco, CA; with Gerald Muller, Leo Nestor, and James Savage, advising).

Monday, January 2

Conference participants arrived in Detroit with accommodations at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel and proceeded to the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament for Evening Prayer.  The Reverend J. J. Mech, Rector of the Cathedral, presided over Evening Prayer, welcomed all conference participants, and gave a thorough tour and history of the Cathedral and the Archdiocese of Detroit.

Following Evening Prayer, conference participants enjoyed a wonderful reception in the Cathedral Rectory, during which the CRCCM Statement of Purpose was read aloud, and all of the participants introduced themselves.  New members and first-time conference participants for 2017 included: Charlene Angelini, Director of Music at the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia, PA; Beau Baldwin, Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, Little Rock, AS; Daniel Brondel, Associate Director of Music and Organist at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY; Michael Hey, Assistant Director of Music and Organist at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, NY; and Samuel Holmberg, Director of Sacred Music for the Diocese of Marquette, MI.

The Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, dedicated in 1930, was built originally as a parish church and designed in the Norman Gothic style by the Cleveland-based architecture firm Henry A. Walsh.  The church was designated the Cathedral in 1938, the year in which Detroit was elevated to an archdiocese.  Previous cathedral churches for the Archdiocese of Detroit remain in continuous use, including Saints Peter and Paul Jesuit Church (the oldest surviving church building in Detroit and Cathedral from 1848 to 1877); Saint Aloysius Church (Pro-Cathedral from 1877 to 1890); and Saint Patrick’s Church (Cathedral from 1890 to 1938).  The cathedral is home to two pipe organs: a two-manual, 32-rank instrument in the apse, built in 2003 by the Austin Organ Company; the original gallery organ is a three-manual, 55-rank instrument built in 1925 by Casavant Frères.  Both organs are linked and can be played together from either console.

Following the reception, conference participants found dinner on their own.

Tuesday, January 3

On Tuesday morning, Dr. Eugene Rogers, Associate Director of Choirs and Associate Professor of Conducting at the University of Michigan, presented a survey of Contemporary African American choral music.  Dr. Rogers offered samples of choral arrangements and editions of African music, spirituals, and Gospel music.  He demonstrated helpful performance practice options pertaining to improvisation in the African music; he underscored the link in rhetorical style between preaching and singing in Gospel music; and he discussed the relatively strict and thorough editorial practices of arrangers such as William Dawson.  Conference participants served as a choir for the session, which gave them the enjoyable opportunity to sing each of the example pieces.

Following the choral session, Anthony DiCello and Brian Gurley, Director of Music and Organist at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY, presented a Resource Session outlining of the Rites of Ordination.  Consulting liturgical books such as the Roman Pontifical and the Graduale Romanum, DiCello and Gurley provided a cathedral musician’s guide outlining the proper antiphons prescribed for ordinations.  The session included discussions of revisions between different editions of the Roman Pontifical, opportunities for silence, and the need for new musical settings of certain antiphons.  The resulting outline will be made accessible on the CRCCM website, where cathedral musicians may add to repertoire lists of ritual music pertaining to episcopal, presbyteral, and diaconal ordinations.

Tuesday’s itinerary continued with a presentation by Dr. Steven Ball, who presented a biographical outline of former Cathedral organist René Louis Becker and the history of liturgical music at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  A native of Strasbourg, France, Becker received his early musical training at the Strasbourg Conservatory of Music, later emigrated to the United States, and led a remarkably prolific career as an organist, teacher, and composer.  Two notable posts that he held were as organist at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Alton, Illinois, and later at the newly-built Church of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Detroit.  Over a compositional career spanning forty years, Becker published nearly one hundred individual works, including organ sonatas, masses, piano solos, and motets.

Having previously served as Cathedral organist at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Dr. Steven Ball is Organist and Director of Outreach for the world’s largest pipe organ, located at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Conference participants found lunch on their own.

The first afternoon session was held at Christ Church (Episcopal) of Grosse Pointe, where Director of Music Scott Hanoian discussed effective strategies for choral program administration.  Mr. Hanoian recommended adopting an administrative framework that embraces the countercultural nature of singing in a church choir.  Robust leadership, he suggested, establishes a choral program as well-worth the significant time commitment and often ensures that it remains first priority among other arts and sports programs.  The best way for a choir director to encourage fidelity to a schedule is for them to publish the next season’s calendar in early summer, remain faithful to it themselves, and to make constant reference to it.  Mr. Hanoian also offered strategies for flexible and inflexible requirements and choir holidays, which enables him to be more strict when enforcing the non-negotiable choir calls.  Mr. Hanoian leads a very active music program at Church Church Grosse Pointe, including the Choir of Men and Boys, the Choir of Men and Girls, the Christ Church Schola, and the Christ Church Chorale, providing music for over 100 services annually.

Later Tuesday afternoon, conference participants proceeded to Sacred Heart Major Seminary for a presentation titled “Liturgical Spirituality of Cathedral Musicians,” delivered by the Reverend James Bessert, Director of Liturgy for the Diocese of Saginaw, MI.  Fr. Bessert’s reflections provided theological and liturgical insights rooted in the Liturgical Movement, which guide the work of any liturgical minister.  Evening Prayer was celebrated in the Seminary Chapel; Fr. Bessert served as presider, and Joseph Balistreri served as organist.  Conference participants enjoyed dinner at the Seminary after Evening Prayer.

Tuesday evening, at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Cathedral Cultural Series presented a concert of music for two choirs and two organs.  The Archdiocesan Chorus of Detroit, under the direction of Joseph Balistreri, performed works including Hodie Christus natus est by Sweelinck, Alma Redemptoris Mater by Palestrina, Glory to the Newborn King by Moses Hogan, and Perfect Praise by Richard Smallwood; the Detroit-based chamber choir Audivi performed Alma Redemptoris Mater à 8 by Tomás Luis de Victoria, Lux aurumque by Eric Whitacre, and A Spotless Rose by Herbert Howells.  In the second half of the concert, the combined choirs performed the Messe Salve Regina by Yves Castagnet and—inviting audience participation—the Messe Solennelle by Louis Vierne.  Organists for the concert were Ms. Stephanie Nofar-Kelly (Grande Orgue, at the Cathedral’s Casavant organ in the West Gallery); and Ms. Shari Fiore (Orgue de Chœur, at the Cathedral’s Austin organ in the apse).  Founded in 1975, the 48-voice Archdiocesan Chorus of Detroit serves as the resident choir of the Archbishop of Detroit and a forum for Catholic sacred choral music in the Detroit Metropolitan area.  In January 2015, the Chorus traveled to Rome and joined the Sistine Chapel Choir at St. Peter’s Basilica for the Solemnity of the Epiphany celebrated by Pope Francis.  Audivi is a professional vocal ensemble based in Detroit and founded in 2013.  The ensemble specializes in lesser known Renaissance choral music, but also performs choral music from all eras (

Following the concert, conference participants gathered in the Cathedral gallery for a premiere of the winning antiphons of the 2016 CRCCM Proper Antiphon Composition Contest.  The texts provided to composers were drawn from the Rite of Ordination of Priests: Entrance Antiphon IV from the Graduale Romanum and the Communion Antiphon from the Roman Missal (3rd. typical edition).  Twenty-two composers from across North America, Europe, and Australia submitted entries to the judges’ panel for anonymous evaluation.  The winning entries for the 2016 competition were composed by Dr. Peter Latona, Director of Music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.  Dr. Latona led the performance of the antiphons and was awarded the $2,000 contest prize.  The antiphon settings were scored for congregation, choir, cantors, and organ, with optional brass and timpani.  The forthcoming publication of the Entrance Antiphon will include an alternate text for general use; more information will be made available on the CRCCM website.  The CRCCM judges panel consisted of Michael Batcho (Milwaukee), Marie Rubis Bauer (Omaha), Matthew Geerlings (Sioux City), Brian Gurley (Albany), and James Savage (Seattle).  Anthony DiCello (Cincinnati) served as committee chairperson.

Wednesday, January 4

Wednesday morning sessions took place at Sts. Peter and Paul Church, beginning with an update from the Secretariat for Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), given by the Reverend Andrew Menke.  Fr. Menke described current projects of the Secretariat, most notably the edition of a Spanish-language Roman Missal for the United States; the revision of the Liturgy of Hours; the publication of a supplement for the Liturgy of Hours; and the recently revised Rite of Holy Matrimony.

The second morning session consisted of a semi-autobiographical reflection by Dr. Norah Duncan IV, who had formerly served as Director of Music at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Duncan enjoyed a prolific career  of over 26 years at the Cathedral, and he shared vivid memories of his budding career and collaboration with Archdiocesan leadership.  During his tenure, Dr. Duncan built a vibrant music program and a thriving Cathedral Cultural Series that continues today.  Having retired from full-time church music, Duncan continues his impressive career in academia today at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he is Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music.  At WSU, he also serves as Area Coordinator for Organ Performance and directs the Concert Chorale.

Conference participants found lunch on their own before the first of two CRCCM business meetings.  Michael Batcho, Chair of the CRCCM Steering Committee, led the business meeting and described the nomination and election processes for new members of the steering committee.  Donald Fellows, Treasurer of the CRCCM, presented the financial status of the organization.  Other topics of discussion included resource and repertoire sharing to assist Cathedrals with Spanish-speaking communities, recruitment strategies for welcoming new cathedral musicians to the conference, and the increased programming of open-forum discussions pertaining to issues facing Cathedral musicians.

Following the business meeting, conference participants boarded the coach bus for Toledo, OH.  Upon arrival at Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral (Rosary Cathedral), they were welcomed by Paul Monachino, Director of Music.  Following a brief period of time for self-guided touring, the Reverend Monsignor William J. Kubacki, Rector of the Cathedral, greeted conference participants and shared a brief history of the Diocese of Toledo and the Cathedral.  Evening Prayer was celebrated in the Cathedral with the Most Reverend Daniel E. Thomas, Bishop of Toledo, presiding.  Choral music was provided by the Cathedral Choir, under the direction of Paul Monachino, who also served as organist.  Choral and instrumental prelude music included Good Christian Friends, Rejoice, arr. David Sims; How Brightly Shines the Morning Star (for flute and organ) by Paul Manz; and Make We Joy Now in this Fest by Malcolm Archer.  After Evening Prayer, conference participants enjoyed a delicious dinner in the Cathedral School, catered by Tony Packo’s Restaurant.

After dinner, conference participants returned to the Cathedral for an evening organ recital performed by Mr. Dexter Kennedy.  Winner of the 2014 Grand Prix d’Interprétation at the 24th Concours International d’Orgue de Chartres, Mr. Kennedy currently maintains an active recital career and serves as Assistant Organist at Christ Church, Grosse Pointe, MI.  His impressive program consisted of Epiphanie by Gaston Litaize; Chorale Prelude and Fugue on “O Traurigkeit, o Herzeleid” by Ethel Smyth; Prière by César Franck; Adeste Fideles, from Cathedral Windows by Sigfrid Karg-Elert; Prélude et Fugue sur le nom d’Alain by Maurice Duruflé; and Sonata on the 94th Psalm by Julius Reubke.

The Rosary Cathedral was completed in 1931 in the midst of the Great Depression, though it was not dedicated until 1940, after the depression.  The Cathedral was designed in the Spanish plateresque style by the Pittsburgh architect William Perry.  The Cathedral is home to a four-manual, 78-rank E. M. Skinner organ from 1930.  The instrument is one of the last to be built by Ernest Skinner before his retirement from Aeolian-Skinner Co., and to this day it remains tonally and mechanically unaltered.

Thursday, January 5

Thursday morning began at Sts. Peter and Paul Church with a short organ recital performed by Dr. Thomas Fielding, Director of Music at the Cathedral of Saint Augustine in Kalamazoo, MI, the host Cathedral of the 2018 CRCCM Gathering.  Dr. Fielding performed the Andante from Symphony No. 2 in D Major by Charles-Marie Widor and the Introduction and Passacaglia of Max Reger.

After the recital, the second business meeting took place, which included the nomination of new members to the Steering Committee and discussion of future conference locations.  Marc Cerisier, Organist of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Memphis, TN, demonstrated updates to the CRCCM website and encouraged everyone to upload service leaflets, compositions, and other resources for sharing among CRCCM members.

The final choral session of the week consisted of a workshop led by Dr. Jerry Blackstone, renowned Director of Choral Activities, Professor and Chair of Conducting at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).  The workshop included three portions, the first of which was the imparting of Dr. Blackstone’s “20 Rules of the Game”.  These rules covered all aspects of choral musicianship and direction, including phrasing, gesture, aural skills, and developing constructive chorister habits.  The second portion of the workshop consisted of an explanatory rehearsal, during which conference participants served as the choir.  Dr. Blackstone rehearsed the motet Sicut cervus by Palestrina and explained in detail the reasoning behind his warm ups and instructions.  The third portion of the workshop took the form of a masterclass, during which Daniel Sañez, Director of Music at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Richmond, VA, rehearsed the choir and received constructive criticism from Dr. Blackstone.

A GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor, Dr. Blackstone directs the world-renowned conducting program at the University of Michigan.  He holds degrees from Wheaton College, Indiana University, and the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Southern California.

Conference participants enjoyed free time to explore downtown Detroit, after which they gathered at the Cathedral of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the Composers Reading Session.  The reading session gives conference participants the opportunity to sing through through new compositions from their colleagues.  After the reading session, participants gathered for the closing Mass of the conference.  The Most Reverend Allen H. Vigneron, Archbishop of Detroit, was the celebrant and homilist.  Appointed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009, Archbishop Vigneron is the first Detroit native to serve as the Metropolitan of Detroit.  Choral music was provided by the Cathedral Choir, and repertoire included O Admirabile Commercium by Thomas Stoltzer and Viderunt omnes by William Byrd; organ music was provided by Joseph Balistreri, who improvised a postlude on the Mode II plainsong Alleluia for Christmas Day, Epiphany for the Lord, and Baptism of the Lord.

After Mass, conference participants gathered at Detroit’s Motown Museum for a cocktail hour and a private tour lead by museum staff, as well as the legendary American R&B singer Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  Founded in 1985 by Esther Gordy Edwards, the Motown Museum has preserved the original location of Berry Gordy’s Motown Records (founded in 1959) and allows visitors to stand in Studio A itself, where some of the most important Motown artists and groups recorded many of the label’s greatest hits.  The museum is open to the public, with tours offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Following the visit to the Motown Museum, conference participants enjoyed an elegant closing banquet at the historic family-owned and operated Giovanni’s Ristorante.  Well-deserved appreciation was extended to Joseph Balistreri, Stephanie Nofar-Kelly, Paul Monachino, the Cathedrals’ administrative staffs, Corporate Travel Services, and the CRCCM Steering Committee for organizing such a successful and enjoyable gathering.

The 2018 meeting of the CRCCM will take place in Kalamazoo, Michigan.  It will be hosted by the Cathedral of Saint Augustine, and the itinerary will include a day-trip to the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.

submitted by
Brian F. Gurley
Director of Music and Organist
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Albany, New York



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